Over the next five years agencies of all shapes and sizes face a period of huge change and disruption to the way 'things have always been done’ with ‘Business As Unusual’ framing both the challenge and opportunity well.
Communications agencies (or PR agencies) are not unique in their need for change. Advertising agencies are seeing the threat from the traditional consulting firms becoming 'more creative' building agencies themselves to service the needs of organisations they consult for.
The word ‘digital’ and ‘digital’ agencies as a generic catch-all face extinction as 'digital' moves from a vertical specialism to a horizontal imperative.
Further complicating the agency landscape in 2016 will be in-house teams continuing to grapple with the decision to in-source Vs outsource. Brand marketeers will need to understand the role played by agencies and how they bring value to the process. Agencies must find their points of difference to capitalise.
I see the key 2016 trends and opportunities in a few key ares:
Culture and ‘landscape’ agency structures
This is not just about the much revered generation X or Y entering the workplace but is about the rise of a new workforce changing the shape and skills of the agency. The agency environment needs to evolve. It needs to become more entrepreneurial, more open, shifting from ‘portrait’ to ‘landscape’ agency structures. The old hierarchies are less relevant today. We will see an increased reliance upon skilled and trusted partner networks, meaning agency headcount will fall.
New service value - high value media/comms consultancy
The rise of highly-specialised communications and media consultancy will continue to grow in 2016. Already more evident in the US, underpinned by the fact that a greater number of ‘comms’ people reside on the boards of companies. This change reflects the new high-stakes at play and impact on reputations when things go wrong and the detriment this has on brand and stock-market value.
The idea is the king, again
Elevating the conversation above comms function. We are seeing a resurgence of the big idea. These ideas and creativity will win pitches and retain business but only if conversations and engagement is connected to broader parts of the client organisation.
How can a room full of white, university educated, socially similar people really provide the insights and creativity required to help brands standout. They can’t and 2016 will see a drive for greater diversity in all creative industries. Not just sex, ethnicity but social, educational backgrounds being part of the consideration.
Consolidation within & amongst groups
From the need for increased collaboration amongst agencies to the rise of the network-based agency, right through to consolidation and M&A - the agency landscape will continue to change shape in 2016. It will shrink.
….and finally will we see the rise of agency accelerators
Were is the next real innovations in our industry coming from? Already prevalent in the start-up, tech and wider business landscape. Will we see the emergence of agency incubators or accelerator programmes to nurture and explore new agency models, services and products in 2016. There is much to learn and take away from the success of programmes being run by John Lewis (J-Labs), Level39, Redbull (Amplifier) Microsoft Ventures and Google Campus to name just a few in London. Could these be a future direction to create agency innovation.